S2 6.9 Review

Reveiw by Bob Proctor, Bob really knows his stuff about the S2 sailboats.

The 6.9, 6.7 (& the 22, essentially a 6.9 with wing keel)-- all variants on the same hull -- have similar characteristics but each has its particular emphases and features. The S2 6.9, 6.7, & 22 class association's website==> < http://www.sail-s2.org > has pictures inside & out, specs, articles, notices of boats for sale & wanted (on our forum), factory lists of standard & optional equipment, rigging & sail diagrams, & BBs for 6.9, 6.7, & 22 sailors. This offers owners of these boats a lot of support. [Sailnet also has an active listserv (e-mail group) for many brands including S2 ]

S2 produced many cruising models, but they also made a racer- cruiser series-- the 5.5, 6.7, 6.9, 7.9, 9.1, and 10.3 -- all with balsa-cored hulls & decks (as are J-boats, C&C, among others) which makes for lighter, stiffer hulls. "Grand Slam" was a marketing label intended to convey high performance and was applied to the 5.5, 6.7, 6.9 & 7.9 lines; each line had some optional performance packages (spinnaker, etc.).
The 6.9 looks very similar, inside & out, to the larger, better known, highly competitive S2 7.9 designed by G&S, (Graham & Schlagater) but in an approximately 7/8th, 22' size that's more easily trailer-sailed (& is actually 6.7 meters 21' 11 3/4+", NOT 6.9m long (22' 7.6+") -- since it uses the same 6.7 hull). While S2 named most of their sailboat models by their metric lengths [1m = 3.281 ft], in THIS case "6.9" is only a name & not an accurate measure. The 6.7 (see my Boatcheck owner's review) is as highly competitive in its own size range as the 7.9 and was designed by Don Wennersten. 160 6.7s were built from 1980 through the summer of '82. But to capitalize on the notoriety of the 7.9's racing wins & sales success, S2 had G&S redesign the 6.7's cabin, cockpit & interior to be a 7.9 "little sister" look-alike, & marketed it as the "6.9" to distinguish it from the 6.7 that it replaced.

The factory specs on the 6.9 & just preceding 6.7 list a 22' LOA hull; 18'9" LWL; 8' beam; 2200 lb displ; similar fully retracting keels (the 6.9 draws 4'6" with LK down, 10" full up); & near equal sailplans (main =127 SF; class jib 102). The 6.9 has 770 lbs ballast: 430 lbs in the LK, 340 glassed in the bilge.

S2, noted for their consistently good glasswork, says their production weights average within 5% variation from specs. Maybe an ad writer claimed the 6.7s & 6.9s have the same displacement? -- while we do measure dry 6.7s at 2200 lbs., dry 6.9s weigh about 4-500 lbs more; more upholstery, added bulkheads & cabinetry, plus much more extensive interior FG pan/hull liner, etc., all help add the extra weight. (Specs for the S2 22 & 6.9 are identical except: the 22's displacement is listed as 2300 lbs; keel ballast as 700 lbs, & the shoal draft wing keel draws 2'9".)

In 1984 (the factory says at about hull #59 of the 6.9s), S2 switched from polyester resin to an epoxy resin (AME 4000, far more blister resistant) for all S2 hull structures. As with other builders, while some previous hulls with polyester resin had major blister problems, others did not. For those hulls made with the polyester resin (since it allows water to seep through) if the boat will be wetslipped it's best to have an epoxy blister- preventing barrier coating on the bottom's gelcoat after the hull is dried.

174 6.9s were built from about April, 1983, through 1986. For 1987, S2 had G&S modify & redesign the 6.9. From the outside the cabin, cockpit, rig & sail plan look the same but a shoal draft wing keel replaced the LK, most of the cabin partitions of the 6.9 were eliminated, the interior FG pan/liner was modified, and a very open interior was the result. The hull, while identical in shape to the 6.7 & 6.9, is solid FG of modified epoxy rather than balsa cored like its predecessors. This new version was renamed the "S2 22." Only twentyone 22s were produced, all in 1987. S2 said, "the [sailing] performance of the [22] ... exceeded our expectations;" S2 marketed it to appeal to families as a fast but very secure & uncomplicated racer/cruiser.

But by then the U.S. sailboat market had begun the extended, major slump that wiped out many builders (e.g., Cal, Ericson, O'Day, Pearson, etc.).

S2 had seen that future coming and, after 1987 (except for a limited run of 7.9s), stopped producing sailboats to concentrate on their already substantial and thriving powerboat lines.

6.9s carry 95 lbs less lead ballast in their keels than the 6.7s and so do more heeling. That's not very noticeable in either lighter winds or when 4-5 adults are on the rail, but it is definitely noticed when sailed in stronger winds by only 1 or 2 adults. PHRFs for 6.7s & 6.9s often are rated the same (206) by many YCs but the Portsmouth #s show the 6.7 (D-PN 88.6) to be a little faster (about 16"/nautical mi.) than the 6.9 (D-PN 91.3)].

{For the 22, USSA's 1998 PHRF value is 204 [but that was based on only one boat, less than one season (in 1996; Florida SW).}

The 6.9 is fast, good on all points of sailing, & it's especially good in light & moderate airs. In higher winds, either reef early &/or have 4-5 adult crew for active ballast. It sails well under main alone (if single-handed, reef in winds >10-15 mph). The hull form's one slight drawback is that the bow is slightly full (needed to give enough buoyancy forward) and that can slow the boat down punching into a chop. But it can plane off the wind and, as the #s & results indicate, the hull is far better than average. Two of our racing skippers have had their 6.9s rated THE overall top boat in their respective large PHRF racing fleets [one in OK (inland) & the other in NJ (coastal)] against large competition. As fast as most 27' boats, there's still almost no centerboard/ daggerboard boat in a 22' size that sails as fast (except ULD sport boats) or as well. [For comparison, 1998 PHRF rates 6.9s as sailing a nau. mi. on average about 64" faster than Catalina 22s, & about 24" faster than Catalina 25s.]

6.9s (& 6.7s) are often compared in rig, speed, & hull to the faster (PHRFs~ 160-180) 7.9s & keel J-22s/24s --their rigs & sail controls are very similar so those with previous sailing or racing experience appreciate that. The fractional rig & quality mast, with an effective back stay adjuster, midcockpit traveler, etc., give great control over mast bend and the mainsail's shape & draft.

6.9s won't confer speed on just anyone sailing them; the more skippers know how to tune their rig and when to adjust and tweak, the more these boats respond so those who sail that way will find them far more rewarding. The 6.9 is great for handicap (PHRF, Portsmouth) & fleet racing, daysailing, family sailing, week- ending and/or trailer cruising in lake and coastal sailing and combinations of the above. It's a true multi- function boat: 1/4 of our owners primarily race; 1/2 primarily pleasure-sail or trailer cruise; and 1/4 do both.

Don Wennersten's design for the LK [also used on the 6.7 & 7.9] is a NACA series foil and is unique; it retracts vertically inside a trunk that runs from the hull bottom to the cabin roof. Removable steel pins keep the LK from coming up too far in case of a knockdown. Advantages of this LK include: (1) it gives good lift to windward; (2) it fully retracts, giving a minimum draft of 10" which (3) makes launching & retrieving on shallower ramps easier plus (4) the boat's height on the trailer is lower and (5) it's easier to tow; (6) LK down, the boat goes to windward as well as most keel boats yet (7) the LK can be raised on runs, reaches, & light air days to reduce drag and (8) it allows sailing in water shallower than the maximum draft; (9) the vertical lift keeps the Ctr of Lateral Resistance (CLR) fairly constant so varying the draft doesn't radically alter the (lee or weather) helm and the rig stays tuned; (10) the unique design reduces much of the slop and banging found in most other cb, k/cb, & db designs; (11) no water splashes out of the trunk and (12) maintenance of the lifting system is very clear and straightforward.

Disadvantages of this LK include: (1) the floor to ceiling trunk takes more space from the interior; (2) the LK's weight demands that the 6.9 lift system be kept in good shape and/or use a larger winch (weak people wouldn't raise or lower the LK); (3) when the LK is completely raised, the boat's CLR is reduced so much it makes steering onto a trailer to reload more of a problem; (4) since the board won't pivot aft in groundings, monitoring a DF & caution re: groundings is important; (5) inspection of the LK & prompt repair (if needed) after hard groundings is wise because (6) if the outer FG shell is cracked or broken, immediate repairs are simple but, if neglected, water & debris will progressively separate the FG outer shell eventually causing more serious damage to the keel (e.g., splitting the shell).

Every boat design reflects the compromises made between many desirable but mutually incompatible qualities. E.g., some boats are designed and built to handle heavy winds far better but in light and moderate winds, those same qualities make them slower; it's in the light/moderate winds that the 6.9 consistently shines.
Compared with most other 22' boats, the 6.9 favors SAILING QUALITY over its hull volume & down-below-living. (Others expand living space with larger cabins by sacrificing deck space to walk on or by raising freeboard which increase windage at the sacrifice of sailing quality -- compare the 6.9's PHRF and Portsmouth #s with others; you decide which compromises you prefer in a 22' boat). 6.9s occupy a special niche among boat which will fit some people's needs very well but others not well at all.

While a 6.9 sails very much like a bigger, faster, more stable One Design class dinghy, it also provides modest cruising features. The 6.9 couldn't be a happy choice for those who need a live-in floating family cabin for the every weekend socials at dockside. It offers camping style amenities; it doesn't cram miniature facilities into a 22' hull trying to imitate motel accommodations. Compared to bigger boats with bigger cabins (& maintenance expenses), your days (& some overnights) on the 6.9 can be mixed with nights in motel suites (or at home) that'll really give you more space and comfort -- plus you can easily trail to far more cruising grounds than most 40 footers will ever sail in their lifetimes; as further reward, you'll also have a lively boat that's fun to sail when you get there.

6.9s have a slightly higher, longer cabin & shorter cockpit (6' 6" -- not the claimed 7') than 6.7s (8'); 6.9s down below seem bigger, plushier, with more headroom & emphasis on cruising accommodations. The cabin roof & hull sides are covered by the nubby neutral beige synthetic carpet cemented to it typically used by S2; a coordinated, contrasting tweed, e.g., brown/linen, was used on some bulkheads, & usually a fishnet pattern on berth upholstery. FG is cream/almond accented by liberal teak, some solid, some veneered ply. The cabin is modestly roomy & livable (owners have reported good trips that lasted between 1-2 days to 1-2 weeks; just how "livable" depends on how much gear; how many aboard; how big & how compatible or feisty they are; and how rainy, &c.). 2 adults + 2 middle school kids would be a usual comfortable max for 1-2 day overnighting in good weather.

The 6.9 has 2 quarter berths (6'6") & a roomy semi- enclosed V-berth for two adults. An opening hatch above the V-berth is standard. Opening ports P&S in the V-berth area were optional (or can be added to the VERY rare 6.9 without them). There's no "pop-top" so maximum headroom is 4'6" (and sitting headroom under the side decks can be cramped for adults); a boom tent could add more space for families. The optional interior lighting pkg. is good. In warmer climates, there's not enough ventilation but it can be added (e.g., in the companion way drop-boards). A table, usable in cockpit or below, was a factory option but the large cockpit invites much use (& the factory table is heavy for those who race).

Stock 6.9s have a semi-enclosed porta-potti (or optional permanent head and holding tank); 6.5' cockpit (bisected by the traveler); much storage (but you'll need to keep the boat light if you want to keep the speed). [If cruising with pre-school kids, a 6.7 or 22 could be a better choice for some since it wouldn't need to be reefed as soon. The 6.7's space below also is more open for storage, for special places to play with toys, to explore, etc. But the 6.9 & 22 cabins' room are much better than the 6.7. It's strongly suggested to see ALL models and then weigh what fits best for your needs; to which design can you most comfortably adapt.]

With the 6.9, a thwartship bulkhead was added to prevent boats from getting swamped if the lazarette seats are open and the boat gets pooped by a wave (it happened to a J-22). This bulkhead runs under the mid-cockpit traveler at the foot of the bunks. If there's no bilge pump evacuating this compartment (the usual case) a dedicated pump or a Y-valve is easily added.

This bulkhead hampers easy access to storage in the aft section. I put two Bomar hatches on each side (8.5x11.4" uppers; 9.8x19.5" lowers). Rolled sails, paddle, etc., go through them into this stern area rather than taking room in the cabin; also, with the larger hatch removed, a person can squirm through to get to the internal transom area to check wiring, fittings, etc.

Most fittings were Schaefer (& their OEM rope clutches could be updated). The 6.9's keel lift mechanism is a problem on some boats but that's easily corrected; ask the 6.9/6.7/22 class assocn. The block on the 6.9 (& 6.7) lifting keel should be checked; the aluminum cheeks on the OEM block of SS & Alum. can rapidly disintegrate from ANY saltwater exposure. The boat takes OBs 3~10 hp [a 6 hp came with mine but I (in the minority) prefer a 55 lb/thrust trolling motor] and 3-6 hp will be adequate for most uses except those in strong current or wind areas (long shaft OBs are much preferred).

On the 6.9, storage for external gas tanks is not good (it's fine on the 6.7) and some simple modifications should be made. The cockpit seats on all 6.7, 6.9, & 22s are designed to drain and never puddle from rain or spray (a feature found on few other boats). S2's non-skid surfaces on their sailboats are industrial strength; "Practical Sailor" called S2s' the best they've ever seen.

The clearance, cockpit sole to bottom of boom should be about 5' 0" (4' 8" on the 6.7). Most older mainsails will have a "droopy" clew & boom. This was because sailmakers produced sails to the design's original sailplan. However, racing skippers found that (with the mast butt set in the factory position) the boats sailed faster and pointed better with the mast severely raked. While this put the clew dangerously low, they tolerated it for the extra performance given by raking the mast. Since no official Class Association and Rules Committee existed to modify the sail plan or mast butt location, both the existing design along with the raked tuning have co-existed. This small amount of extra sail area is in the least productive area PLUS it's a bother at best & always potentially lethal when tacking or jibing, so -- if the raked tuning is used -- the main should be replaced or recut to be parallel to the cockpit sole. (And also convert it to the current loose-footed style which has a few advantages.)

The 6.9/6.7 mast can be easily raised & lowered alone with a few aids but two or more handle it much faster. (A hinged mast plate from Ballenger Spars in CA is much better than the OEM Kenyon tabernacle if you do much trailering.) The same is true for launching & reloading. While it's very easy to launch 6.9s/6.7s, retrieving & reloading onto the trailer can involve someone getting wet feet because, when the board is full up, there's no keel to pivot around so the steering becomes squirrely; someone may be needed to align it to pull with the winch. Trailer modifications (e.g., vertical guides at the rear, tongue extender, etc.) or wading boots may be worth it if you drysail as I do but usually wouldn't be worthwhile for those who wetslip and take out on a trailer only once a year.

Drysailing works best when the boat can be left fully rigged & the parking lot is near the ramp. To go from road ready to sailing ready & back again _every_ time you sail might soon feel like more work than fun (but it's certainly okay for occasional vacation trips to other spots).

The boat trailers well over the highway so your potential cruising areas are very wide. A typical minimum towed 6.9 boat + trailer weight will be about 4300 lbs., tongue weight ~ 10% -- (2700 lbs net weight + 500 lbs sails, OB, eqpmt. + 1100 lbs trailer). So the tow vehicle's rated capacity should include that as well as the load from occupants & baggage in the vehicle.

Which tow vehicle is suitable depends on how much trailering you do and where. When it's only once or twice a year, and without hills, the demands are much less than if you often tow long distances at high speeds and high temps. (Astro/ Safari, or equivalent, with a truck type ladder frame, a 4.3L V-6, & a 5k lb. tow rating are often okay, depending on driving needs, while full size vans or trucks may be more suitable for others.) For much trailering, transmissions should have coolers and trailers with good brakes (surge is fine); most trailers are single axle, a few prefer tandem axles.

6.9s are high quality & require normal care. Being easily trailered, you'll save marina/yard charges when you launch/pull or step the mast yourself; you could bring it home to work if you want. While a number of newbies have started out with 6.9s or 6.7s, those who are used to full control of sail shape -- or who want to learn that -- especially appreciate them.

Many S2 owners are so satisfied with the sailing & quality that, when trading up or down, they seek other S2s. When 6.9s are available, they're typically in the $5k to $10k range (often with trailer, OB, sails). Since relatively few 6.9s (& 6.7s & 22s) were built, they're often unknown (as they were to me) -- even among fairly experienced sailors. As a result, they're among the very best bargains in sailboats this size-- they are real treasures. If you consider one, check its HIN with our class. SOME boats that have been advertised as 6.9s were not. 6.9s were built ONLY in the years 1983-86 (22s ONLY in 1987; 6.7s ONLY 1980-83).

In January, 1999, we became a Class Association & member of USSA. Please visit our website and join. We have an active, supportive group for the 6.9/6.7/22 and can help you with questions re: maintenance, racing, cruising, restoring neglected boats, and other topics.

Our class website & forum has a list of boats available so you can compare prices & features. We rent out a moisture meter to check on hull moisture; we provide discounts for some equipment. Ask us for help in assessing the condition of a prospective boat. If you own an S2 6.7, 6.9, or 22, PLEASE fill out the "Registration" on our website so we can keep you posted (e.g., class newsletter) and you can help us locate where these boats are.

revised 10oct04; check for updates. (If 6.7/6.9/22 sailors see any errors of fact or implication, please let me know by e-mail so I can correct this.)